29th. Sunday of Year (C)
(Exodus 17:8-13; 2
Timothy – 4:2; Luke
Our readings today speak to us about both prayer and warfare, and that can seem to us incongruous or even contradictory. Traditionally, however, Christians have always understood life here on earth as a time of spiritual combat under the banner of Jesus: a battle against the devil and our own ignorance and weakness.
The first reading spoke most clearly about prayer as a weapon in that combat; and since most weapons need ammunition, we then heard St. Paul, in the second reading, speaking of Holy Scripture as our arsenal; while, in the Gospel reading, it was Jesus Himself Who finally and fully assured us of the ultimate superiority of our weaponry.
It should be noticed, however, that Jesus spoke about prayer in a surprisingly ambiguous manner, setting -- perhaps intentionally – a somewhat ludicrous scenario for today’s parable.
Try and picture it for yourself: on the one hand there is an unscrupulous judge, an officially-licensed criminal we might say today. Then, on the other hand there is this widow, a woman of whom we know nothing else, except that she could nag! The pseudo-judge had his finger in many pies no doubt and he was not interested in little matters concerning unimportant people, he wanted money or, if money was not all that plentiful in his catchment area, so to speak, he wanted the things that are associated with money, that is, gifts, influence, and prestige. Most assuredly, he had no time for small fry.
However, wherever this legal thug/thief went, he found himself being followed by this woman whom he regarded, no doubt, as a troublesome hag, whose voice was constantly ringing in his ears as she cried out again and again:
Render a just decision for me against my adversary!
Can you imagine what a good comedy director could make of such a story? A criminal justiciar, an unscrupulous magistrate, beginning to tear his hair out because of the fact that wherever he went he heard that same shrill voice repeating that same cry-cum-demand, ‘Give justice for me against my adversary!’
Why did Jesus use a parable which could easily been regarded as a parody? Could it, indeed, be the case that He wanted His disciples to smile a little at the thought of anyone being able to seriously conceive a doubt about God’s unfailing attentiveness to our prayers or question His willingness and power to answer them? Jesus had just previously been talking most seriously to His disciples about His Second Coming, foreshadowed, as He said, by the dire memory of Noah’s destroying flood and the fire and brimstone at Lot’s departure from Sodom. Here, however, in this immediately subsequent parable He can be understood to be saying, “Give serious matters serious attention by all means; but, as for doubts about the usefulness of prayer to God, treat such imaginations as they deserve: they are laughable for anyone who knows God, as, indeed, you should know Him by now.”
However, Jesus did add a more serious and more consoling final observation:
He (God) will see to it that justice is done speedily for His chosen ones who call out to Him day and night.
In those words, Jesus spoke as One who knew God, indeed, as the One who knew His Father and reverenced Him totally: “He does hear and will answer your prayers speedily. As soon as your true prayer begins He will be answering; and though that answer may take years to come to fulfilment, it will always, and throughout, be found to have been as complete as the circumstances in which you found yourself or had placed yourself would allow. However -- and this is why I speak this parable to you at this moment -- the ultimate question will not be one about God, but about mankind; for:
When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?
There Jesus hinted at the large numbers of nominal Christians and Catholics who allow doubts about God – ‘does He hear my prayers?’ – not only to surface in their heart but also to then hang around in the nooks and crannies of their mind, unaware that it is they themselves who are thereby beginning to lose hold of their end of the bond of faith with God, by taking their worldly fears, their pseudo-spiritual anxieties, too seriously.
And so, People of God, be in no doubt that the life of a Christian on earth is a time for combat, spiritual combat. As St. Paul told Timothy in our second reading, perseverance is essential:
Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed because you know from whom you learned it.
It was in Mother Church that we were first taught about the importance and the efficacy of prayer to God, and it is Mother Church who gives us, and helps us to understand, the arsenal of the Scriptures, as St. Paul again said:
From infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God, and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Joy in the Lord is a supremely important part of the armour of a Christian; and so, let us all learn from Jesus and never allow any foolish doubts about God hearing our prayers to linger on and hang around at the back of our mind. Most certainly, with such thoughts still troubling your imagination, your prayer may not be the best of which you are capable; but, despite all that, prayer that is sincerely made will, unquestionably, be acceptable to God, and will, most certainly, be heard and answered by your Father in heaven. So, let us all once more hear and resolve to follow the teaching of St. Paul, that most faithful through-thick-and-thin disciple of Jesus, who tells us from his own life experience as the Apostle of the Gentiles:
I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-9:1)
But, more even than all that, we have the supreme example of Our Blessed Lord Himself praying during His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He implored His Father, He wept, and prayed to exhaustion, and yet not one of the evangelists or other apostolic writers tells us that Jesus heard anything from His Father in answer to His prayer: so far as we know from Scripture, He received no audible – so desirable, humanly speaking -- reply. Why? Jesus had evidently willed that the Apostles should hear His Own prayer, why not His Father’s answer??
Jesus Himself tells us what His Father’s will and silence meant to Him (John 12: 50):
I know that His command is eternal life.
Jesus, on earth, loved His Father above all, and as an essential aspect of His earthly mission and human saving-experience, He sacrificed His own will, His own Self, to do His Father’s will for mankind’s salvation: as He Himself said, He came on earth not to do His own will but the will of His Father Who sent Him. He knew -- with His whole mind, heart, and existential being -- that His Father’s deliberate will was, is, and ever will be, a supreme expression of His merciful love towards weak and sinful human beings aspiring to heavenly fulfilment in Jesus by the Spirit. Jesus was sent as Saviour for mankind: He saved us by His suffering as One of us, He redeemed us by His obedience as the only-begotten Son of His heavenly Father.